Drawing Down the Moon

A priestess stands in a circle with a group of followers. She acknowledges the aspects of the four elements and commits the group to the care of the element water. Then she describes her vision, into which she draws them. The vision is of the moon descending in the form of a lady clothed in light, who, embracing them in a rapture of wings, speaks to the divinity in each individual. Around them are the glowing aspects of the soul. After imparting relevant knowledge to the various members of the group, the Lady instructs them that if they truly seek her wisdom, they should do so with a kiss.

If not actually commonplace in present-day London or Boston, then the scene should be fairly well-known from features in the Sunday Supplements. However, the priestess is Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179). The others present at the "circle" were the investigating commission from Pope Eugenius, which declared her visions to be divinely inspired and valid. It's oh-so-tempting to see this as the first documented description of drawing down the moon in circle.

It's a flight of fancy, but let's indulge it for a moment or two and take a brief jog ahead of the evidence. One might associate Hildegard's vision for the commission as a variation of:

"There appeared a great wonder in heaven; a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars"

Revelation chap 12, v1

When Pope Eugenius declared Hildegard's visions valid, was the prophesy from Revelation what the commission had in mind? Almost certainly not. The documents make it clear that the commission associated the Lady with "the woman who resides in Proverbs" and "She whom Solomon worshipped".

Ignoring the blatant eroticism of the Song of Solomon (Canticles), tempting though it might be to quote it, the lady "whom Solomon worshipped" in his old age was the fertility goddess worshipped by one of his foreign wives:

Solomon went after Ashtoret, the god of Tyrians . . . Then Solomon built a high place for Chemosh, the abomination of Ammon, on the mountain which is opposite Jerusalem, and for Molech, the abomination of the children of Ammon. And so he did for all his foreign wives, who burned incense and sacrificed to their gods

1 Kings chap 11 vv5-8.

"Ashtoret" can mean several related things: it can be a votive figure which is worshipped, or it can stand in for the name of a Goddess. But, in this case, Ashtoret is a specific Goddess:

And the high place[s] which are opposite Jerusalem, which are south of the Mount of the Vanguard, which Solomon, king of Israel, built for Ashtoret, the abomination of Sidonians...

2 Kings chap 23 v13

This is "Asherah", the Jewish version of Astarte. Being a priestess of Astarte was the sinecure of the queen mother in Sidon. "Asherah", too, can be used for a general feminine deity or, more specifically a symbol for the vulva and in that context the Bible usually translates it as "grove", with results that are more amusing than rational.

So if that's "She whom Solomon worshipped", who is "The woman who resides in Proverbs?". Well, there are two. One is a sexual temptress: "I have decked my bed with coverings of tapestry, with carved works, with fine linen of Egypt. I have perfumed my bed with myrrh, aloes, and cinnamon. Come, let us take our fill of love until the morning: let us solace ourselves with loves." This imagery is reminiscent of the Song of Solomon, and much of Hildegard's work has erotic overtones. But of this temptress, the text ends "Her house is the way to hell, going down to the chambers of death" and the Persephone imagery is pushing matters too far. Proverbs' other woman is more pertinent.

Doth not wisdom cry? and understanding put forth her voice? She standeth in the top of high places, by the way in the places of the paths. She crieth at the gates, at the entry of the city, at the coming in at the doors.

"Unto you, O men, I call; and my voice is to the sons of man. O ye simple, understand wisdom: and, ye fools, be ye of an understanding heart. Hear; for I will speak of excellent things; and the opening of my lips shall be right things...

"Counsel is mine, and sound wisdom: I am understanding; I have strength.

The Lord possessed me in the beginning of his way, before his works of old. I was set up from everlasting, from the beginning, before ever the earth was. When there were no depths, I was brought forth; when there were no fountains abounding with water.

When he gave to the sea his decree, that the waters should not pass his commandment: when he appointed the foundations of the earth: Then I was by him, as one brought up with him: and I was daily his delight, rejoicing always before him;

Proverbs VIII, 1-6. 14, 22-24, 29-30

I make no apologies for quoting selectively from this vision of "Sophia", the feminine Wisdom. Compare what Hildegard herself says of the woman from the papal vision:

"She is the Lady Wisdom; her voice spoke to me first in my mother's womb and She guides me still. I see her face in the visions of the Living Light and it is she who is praised by King Solomon. She was poured forth before the beginning, the first being of the creation.

"She was created before the heavens were fashioned and raised aloft and before the depths of the earth were carved and hollowed out. She was created before the oceans met the skies and before the rim divided the sea from the land and before the skies were given their breadth.

"She is the beloved of the Creator; they were together when the strands of the world were woven and they are consort and delight for each other night and day."

Whatever commentators might have said in public, it was an image of the feminine principle, and of wisdom in its feminine aspect (as opposed to the more conventional imagery from John, 1) that was described in the findings of the commission. Those were the findings which allowed Pope Eugenius to validate Hildegard's visions, and thus her prophesies: she was known as 'the German Prophetess' and ran something of a consultancy service for local princes and bishops. Sophia has often been associated with Isis/Diana, and certainly Diana teaches secrets in the same way as the woman from Proverbs - "Those who seek me early will find me".

So, it's not altogether a flight of fancy to suggest that the first documented "drawing down" occurred in the early twelfth century - and with papal imprimatur, which may be a little more than the average present-day priestess can claim.

[front door] [ffetcher] [articles] [top]